PORT ANGELES — A state regulation requiring people to wear masks or be refused service by Washington businesses has many Clallam County business owners seeing more face coverings on customers.
The rule, which took effect Tuesday through a mandate from Gov. Jay Inslee, prohibits allowing customers to enter a business, or conducting business with customers who are not wearing facial coverings in any public space, indoors or outdoors.
It was enacted in an attempt to stymie a spike in the number of new coronavirus cases and a possible rollback of economic reopenings. The increase in confirmed cases has delayed the entry of counties into the next phase of the state’s four-phase reopening plan; among them are both Clallam and Jefferson counties, which are in Phase 2.
Businesses that do not comply with the masking order could face consequences ranging from fines to losing their licenses while customers themselves could face misdemeanor charges.
Alan Turner, co-owner of Port Book and News in Port Angeles, said compliance is far from perfect, but people seem to be getting the idea. He said he or his employees sometimes had to remind customers to don a mask, but added that his bookstore is probably ahead of the game.
“It’s better than it was just two or three weeks ago,” Turner said. “It’s probably as good as we could hope.”
At The Co-op Farm and Garden in Sequim, compliance with the mask mandate is high, said Carlita Heilman, who works in customer service.
“We don’t seem to be having much of a problem with it,” she said, adding that most customers come in with masks and for those who don’t, the store has masks available.
“We haven’t had anybody say ‘no we’re not going to,” wear one, she said.
At Forks Outfitters/Thriftway, “compliance has notably increased, said Justice Barnes, assistant manager.
Mask exemptions exist for people who are deaf or have hearing loss, those who have medical conditions that preclude them from wearing masks and children age 5 and younger.
People engaged in recreation alone or with household members or while they are eating in restaurants don’t have to wear masks as long as they are properly distanced from others. Diners must wear masks when they arrive and after they eat.
Public health officials agree that wearing masks slows the spread of the virus, which can be carried by people who are asymptomatic and don’t know that they can infect others. The point of wearing a mask is not to protect the wearer but to protect others, since people without symptoms can transmit the virus, they said.
Early on in the 2020 pandemic, agreement nationally on the necessity of face masks was not uniform, but by early April, the national Centers for Disease Control and the state Department of Health recommended them.
Bob Lumens, co-owner of Northwest Fudge and Confections on West First Street in Port Angeles, said that since the rule took effect, customers seem to understand the necessity of masks.
“Our people have been really good, actually,” he said. “Yesterday, I heard one of the (clerks) tell someone that we require masks, and they just said, ‘Oh, OK,’ and it was fine.”
Some people refuse to wear masks, seeing them as making a political statement or as a violation of their constitutional rights.
Despite backlash against mask wearing by some, Lumens said he had not had anyone rebel against the mask requirement. Notices to customers are posted at the front door of his business.
Eric Brown, co-owner of the Brown’s Outdoors sporting goods store, said there had been no confrontations, either to his staff or to other customers, about making up.
“The majority of people are wearing them,” Brown said. “There have been no complaints.
“Sometimes people will stick their head in and ask,’Oh, do we need a mask?’ And we’ll say you do unless you’re medically exempt.”
Brown said his shop has plenty of spare masks on hand for any customer who needed one, but so far, almost everyone has had masks of their own. He said that was particularly true since the state mask requirement went into effect.
The knowledge that a segment of the public has a disdain for masks for personal or political reasons prompted Brown to put policies and practices into place to accommodate bare-faced customers.
“There’s always going to be some folks who don’t wear masks,” Brown said. “We ask them if they would like a mask, and we offer them another way to shop, if they want us to shop for them and to do curbside (service) for them.
“And if they say they’re medically exempt, we leave it at that.”
So far, there have been no heated objections at Brown’s Outdoors, Brown said, although he fully expected to find resistance to the mandate and insistence from those wanting to enforce it.
“We weren’t sure what was going to happen,” he said. “There are a lot of outspoken folks on both sides. But it seems like they leave that outside and they don’t bring it in here.”
Photojournalist Keith Thorpe can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 59050, or at [email protected].